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Page last updated at 15:36 GMT, Friday, 14 May 2010 16:36 UK
Keep the bees buzzing in Greater Manchester


Emma Hill explains how the Dunham Massey hive will help with bee research

The dramatic decline of the honeybee has become a cause of global concern.

Bees are the world's most important pollinating insects and are worth about £200m a year to British agriculture.

Now, people across the UK are joining Bee Part Of It, a BBC project supported by wildlife presenter Kate Humble, to create local bee-friendly spaces.

The project will help raise awareness of the threats facing local bees and offer opportunities to get involved.

Honey bee on flower
Honeybees are the only bees to produce enough honey for us to collect
There are 250 species of bee in the UK consisting of bumblebees, honeybees and solitary bees - with approximately 25,000 known species of bee in the world
Pollination delivers €14.2bn to the European economy, most of this is through bumblebees and honeybees
Bumblebees have smelly feet! They produce oily secretions to inform other bees which flowers have already been visited
(Source: The Bumblebee Conservation Trust)

"Most of our wild honeybees have died out and we, as humans, are very dependent on bees to pollinate food crops," said Kate.

"I realised that by becoming a beekeeper, I could do something really tangible to help the fairly desperate situation that our bee population has found itself in.

"If you believe what Einstein is reputed to have said - we would only survive for four years if there were no bees in the world," she added.

The National Trust is one of the country's biggest landowners and therefore a key player in efforts to reverse the decline of bees.

In support of the Bee Part Of It campaign, it has donated a bee hive, based at Dunham Massey, Altrincham.

"Bee consciousness is vital and we want more people to understand the crucial role bees play in our food chain," said Matthew Oates, The National Trust's advisor on nature conservation.

"We can do simple things like planting bee-friendly plants and flowers to encourage bees into our gardens," he added.

It's been widely reported that all native bees in the UK have been in decline for some time.

A combination of factors - loss of habitats, use of pesticides and disease - along with recent poor summers are thought to have caused the loss of a third of colonies in 2008.

Professor Francis Ratnieks of Sussex University is Britain's only professor of beekeeping. He said it's impossible to predict how the 45 new Bee Part Of It hives will fare.

"You're not guaranteed anything. For a start, the queen could die, and if the colony fails to rear a replacement queen, the colony will die out.

"This is nature and nothing is guaranteed."

Bee-friendly flowers

Owning a hive and learning to be a beekeeper has become a popular pastime, with many people taking courses run by the British Beekeepers' Association (BBKA).

Beehives at Dunham Massey

"Our membership has increased by around 4,000 people in the last 12 months," said Martin Smith, president of the BBKA.

"A typical course might include a couple of days' theory and 10 practical sessions spread over the season.

"In terms of cost you're looking at around £500 to get yourself started as a beekeeper. It's important too that if you're starting a colony to try and source the bees from your local area," he added.

If taking up beekeeping sounds like too much of a commitment, then there are less time-consuming options.

"It's easy for most of us to do our bit for honeybees, bumblebees and other pollinating insects by planting the sort of plants and flowers they love in our gardens or in pots on windowsills or balconies," said Springwatch presenter Kate Humble.

"To have bees visit you is like having nature's own expert team of gardeners working really hard for you as they help pollinate your vegetable patch, fruit trees, flowers - anything that depends on pollination," she added.

And it's not just the honeybee: solitary bees are 300 times better at pollinating apple blossom than honeybees and there are vegetables, like tomatoes, that are only pollinated by the bumblebee.

A bugs life

A range of other insects also play their small, but vital part, in pollinating our fruits and flowers.

Kate Humble
If you believe what Einstein is reputed to have said, we would only survive for four years if there were no bees in the world
Kate Humble, wildlife presenter

According to the charity Buglife, 90% of wildflowers could be threatened with extinction without insects to pollinate them.

"Humans and wildlife depend for their survival on the pollination services that are provided by hoverflies, butterflies, moths and beetles as well as all the bees," said Matt Shardlow, ecologist and chief executive of Buglife, the Invertebrate Conservation Trust.

"The loss of wildflowers in the countryside has pushed many species to the brink so it's really important to plant wild type flowers and put them back into the countryside," he added.

Get involved

During Bee Part Of It!, BBC Radio Manchester is focusing on the National Trust beehive at Dunham and the honeybee.

In addition, we will have 1,000 packets of free bee-friendly wildflower seeds to distribute as part of the campaign. Full details available soon - bookmark this page now.

One packet of seeds is available per household and will be available on a first come, first served basis.

Beekeeping isn't just a rural operation - bees can thrive in villages, towns and cities as long as the conditions are right.

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Getting the buzz for beekeeping
20 Aug 09 |  Nature & Outdoors


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